A Devastatingly Effective Ocean Series Shows a 164-year-old New York Times Still at the Top of Its Game.

by Chris Dixon

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Screen grab from the NYT’s: Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

On September 16, 1851, publisher Harvis Jarvis Raymond launched what would become western journalism’s most loved, hated and famed ship of state. This was the day the first The New York Daily Times rolled off the presses. Since that fateful day, humans from William Randolph Hearst to Bill O’Reilly to Richard Nixon have lobbied and prayed for the demise of journalism’s great Grey Lady and the newspaper of record for the world. It ain’t happened yet.


Everyone who read or wrote for the first edition of The New York Times has been dead for a long time. 

As a writer honored to have an occasional byline in the Times, here’s my personal opinion as to why, even in the face of ascendent technology, occasional scandal and blunder, and the bluster of blowhards who want her sunk, the Grey Lady remains defiantly afloat.


Photo from Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship by Basil Childers/NYT

Simply put, whether you agree with them, or hate their guts, scores of outrageously smart people dedicate themselves to the Times’ survival every day. Their mission carries the burden of ego, professional reputation and history. Sometimes, I seriously can’t believe the questions my editors and fellow writers think to ask and the points of view they portray – stuff I wouldn’t think of in a million years. I feel like Wayne and Garth kneeling before Alice Cooper.

A perfect illustration of how this genius thing can play out appears below. Here, late, great Times writer David Carr goes to bat for his fellow reporters and eviscerates Vice founder (and fellow genius) Shane Smith when Smith has the audacity to complain about the Times covering the sport of surfing in Liberia while Vice is covering people who are eating one another in Liberia.

To his credit, and this also helps explain why the Times remains vital, Carr was later willing to admit that some of Vice’s stuff is also – devastatingly good.

Will Vice or the Times still be producing journalism 164 years from now? Could be both, but my bet is on the Times. As a most recent example of why I’m right, I present you with the Times latest series.

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Screen grab from the NYT’s: Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

The first is Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship – a deep tale by Ian Urbina that follows the unimaginably dangerous lives of modern stowaways, the outlaw ships they often hitch rides aboard, and the outlaw magnates who own those ships. A Times videographer was robbed and beaten during the filming of this story. The second is Urbina’s Murder at Sea, based on the discovery of a cell-phone-video of an anonymous high-seas killing (graphic stuff).


Photo: Ben Solomon/The New York Times.

This is immersive reporting on a world you never knew, with plenty of modern technology to bring it all to life. Give your distracted, screen addled brain some focus for the time it takes to read both of these – and digest what’s really going on out there. It ain’t pretty.

These are stories about the food we eat, the products we buy, the future of the oceans, and ultimately, our own place on this crowded, tragedy-riddled planet. After reading them, I reckon I’m depressed, but also ultimately inspired. It’s this kind of hard-assed reporting that can ultimately change the world for the better. And that’s why, ultimately, the Times is still around. — CD


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